A Successful Easter Dinner for Someone with Alzheimer’s

Q. This year, Grandma Pearl will be joining us for Easter dinner. She has Alzheimer’s and her caregiver will be joining us, as well. We are concerned that the dinner could present challenges for her, since she is on a regimented meal time schedule each day. Can you suggest any tips to make the meal a success?

A. Many of our favorite experiences and memories include preparing and sharing holiday dinners with family members. However, when a person has Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, the ability to eat independently may diminish, and mealtimes can become challenging. Often, too, the person with dementia may be experiencing changes, such as decreased appetite, that are part of normal aging. To make your Easter dinner with grandma a success, familiar routines, rituals, and food choices may need to be adapted to meet her day-to-day needs and to address changes that occur as the disease progresses. Below are a few tips to help things go smoothly:

  • Reduce Noise: Lots of noise and activity at mealtimes can be very distracting, causing the person with memory loss to lose interest in eating their meal. Therefore, keep extraneous noise to a minimum. While it’s nice to play music in the background, be sure it is Grandma’s favorite music, not yours, and that it’s not too loud or too fast.  
  • One Person at a time: When assisting the person with memory loss during mealtime, only one person at a time should be talking to them. More than one voice can be distracting, and might even cause them to become more confused or agitated.
  • Place fewer items on the plate: Placing too much food on a plate can be overwhelming to some, which can cause them to either play with it or ignore it. If grandma becomes easily confused, place fewer items of food on her plate or simply serve one food item at a time.
  • Allow her as much independence as possible: If grandma can still manage their utensils, allow her to do so. If she can still cut their food, don’t cut it for her. You might be surprised to see that she will sometimes still take a few bites independently if she is just provided the opportunity! If you notice that grandma can no longer manage utensils, don’t immediately begin to feed her. First try some hand-over-hand assistance by gently placing your hand over their hand which guides them to complete the activity.
  • Provide verbal and visual encouragement: As you raise the fork to your mouth with a pleasant tone of voice you might say to grandma, “The ham is delicious, you should try some, too.” Your encouragement might prompt her to take a bite.
  • Allow her to walk and eat: If grandma no longer likes to sit during her meal, place finger foods in a bowl with non-spill edges or in a wide-mouthed cup, which will enable her to carry her food and eat as she walks. If she doesn’t have the urge to drink liquids, you’ll also want to be sure that you are providing her with adequate hydration by offering drinks, popsicles, or gelatin.

Despite ongoing challenges, a successful family meal is possible, and can be yet another opportunity for grandma, her caregiver, and her loved ones to bond and succeed together.

Persons with Alzheimer’s and their families face special legal and financial needs. At The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Alzheimer’s Planning Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C., we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from Alzheimer’s or other dementias.  If you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, or a family member who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, call us at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax or 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg to make an appointment for an introductory consultation.

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.